Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Hugh Dancy, Caroline Dhavernas, Hettienne Park and Laurence Fishburne
I was sceptical when the premise for a Hannibal first reared its head, especially one tied so closely to my favourite of the three movies, the Red Dragon. Hannibal is one of the greatest fictional creations and the decision to let Anthony Hopkins fill that role was a great choice. One of TVs weaknesses in the battle between the big screen and the small screen is that the leads can get overplayed. I was worried we would be over-saturated with Hannibal. Even Red Dragon wisely kept the serial killer in the shadows, only using him when he was absolutely crucial.
Thankfully Fuller’s series gives us an insightful look into prologue of Red Dragon, showing us the origin story of the fragile Will Graham and his first encounter with the great Dr. Lecter. Will Graham is an unhinged lecturer with the unique ability to completely emphasise with anyone, meaning he is a key asset to have on a crime scene. With a serial killer ripping his way through a group of young girls, Jack Crawford brings Graham onto the team, but hires a local psychiatrist to watch over him, who just so happens to be Hannibal Lecter. Graham forms a friendship with Lecter, while Graham simply piques Hannibal’s curiosity.
The season shows us Will’s collapse into insanity, as he is pitted up against violent killers each week. And I really do mean violent. This season is for those with a strong stomach only, as some of the scenes get a bit gruesome. One episode a girl with leprosy goes around giving people Glasgow smiles and the next week a totem pole is being stacked up with dead bodies. And those are probably the two tamest episodes we get this season. Not that the writers can only do crass, loud chills. There is something skin-crawling about watching Hannibal and Crawford talk about Jack’s dying wife, while he unwittingly eats a meal cooked for him by Hannibal, no doubt human flesh. Yes, Hannibal is an uncomfortable watch, but if you can handle it, you will find something very enjoyable here.
The three leads are well chosen for the role. Laurence Fishburne looks like something straight from a noir detective novel, his Crawford usually standing in the rain with a long trench coat and fedora. At first he might come across as an actor picking up an easy pay-check, but when the time comes to dissect his character, Fishburne gives us a truly great performance. The best of the three is surprisingly Hugh Dancy as Will Graham, the lesser known actor of the three. Edward Norton was good in the movie, but Dancy has far more material to work with. Although the ‘is this real?’ sequences will tire by the closing half of the season, Dancy holds the character together well and gives us someone we can always root for.
It’s Mikkelsen that has me scratching my head. Don’t get me wrong, he is masterful here. He keeps his collected cool throughout the entire season, nails every line given to him and brings a sense of elegance and style to the screen. There is just never the same sense of awe that we would have got when Anthony Hopkins enters the scene. Maybe it is this sense of over-saturation with the character, but we aren’t blown away by this depiction of Lecter. I would happily watch a series where Mikkelsen plays a serial killer, but this year, when it comes to big bad killers Joe Carroll from the Following is getting the top spot.
My main problem with this series though is that it is so goddamn slow. I get this is more a character piece than a crime drama, but at the same time I would have appreciated having a look at some of the weekly killers rather than Will Graham. We are given some great bad guys, but unless they have some source material from the books, they are breezed over as just another guy for Graham to catch. It doesn’t even really focus much on the investigation. Hettienne Park does some forensic things in the background, Lecter spends thirty minutes talking to Will Graham and then someone gets a revelation that cracks the case wide open. If only they focused on a newcomer villain as much as they did with Dr. Gideon (a surprise performance from Eddie Izzard), then I would have been a happier viewer.
Final verdict: Not perfect, but a solid drama. If you have enough patience and a strong disposition, you will enjoy this.